Middling Way

October 16th, 2017

For centuries, the Anglican Church has been proud to see itself as the via media–the “middle way” between the Roman Catholic Church on the one hand and the Protestant churches on the other hand.

We have hoped that are unique traditional structure and our freedom of thought might even combine the best of both worlds. In any case, we want to be a meeting ground where other Christians could gather.

And it is true that we are probably the most diverse church body in Christendom. For example, we have within our communion conservative and liberal Evangelicals, conservative and liberal Anglo-Catholics, and extremely liberal and traditionalist Broad Church Christians.

Unfortunately, these factions seem far apart–though maybe less so than five years ago (the current Archbishop of Canterbury seems to have lowered the temperature of the conflicts.) Nevertheless, at this moment we are all still together. At this moment, we still represent a middle way. —J. Douglas Ousley

Carrying On

October 10th, 2017

Now being discussed is a federal law that would essentially make it legal to carry weapons in every state. Someone with an “open” or “concealed carry” permit valid in one state would be able to bear his weapon in every other state.

The value of this proposed law is not entirely clear to me. Even if the 22,000 concertgoers in Las Vegas had been armed, it’s not clear how effective they would have been in shooting back at the sniper on the 32nd floor. Even an armed security guard at his door apparently couldn’t stop the man. Moreover, carrying weapons increases the chances of suicide and escalating quarrels.

I recognize that the Second Amendment is not about to be repealed. I know clergy who own weapons for hunting and I have friends who have pistols for personal protection in their homes.

But carry permits–open or concealed–are surely superfluous for the vast majority of Americans. —J. Douglas Ousley

More or Less Christian

October 2nd, 2017

A friend recently gave me a book of essays that he had edited on various early Church historical topics. One essay noted that in a homily, the church father Origen “distinguishes within Christ’s army the front-line troops who fight Satan hand to hand and the many camp followers who support the combat forces but do little or no fighting themselves.”

This is a useful distinction. Many “camp followers” simply don’t have the time to attend church every Sunday, serve on committees, observe feast and fast days, offer private prayers, and so on. They might be able to do some of these things, but they are more than willing to support the “front-line troops.” (We might call the latter, “the pillars of the church.”)

If all the camp followers went to church every Sunday, most of our churches would be packed! As it is, we should be grateful for whatever support we get, including support from those who have neither the time nor the inspiration to fight on the front lines. —J. Douglas Ousley


September 27th, 2017

Many monks and nuns offer a lesser-known vow in addition to their commitments to poverty, chastity, and obedience. The vow is “stability.” The monastic promises to remain with his order in a given monastery or convent for the rest of his or her life–unless for some reason the head of the order requires relocation.

In our age where the average American changes job or residence every few years, stability is rare. Indeed, for many people, it may be impossible. In the Methodist Church, for example, clergy are usually moved every seven years by their supervisors.

There is certainly a value in change–a new home can be invigorating, a new job can be stimulating. But when one feels called to stability, it can be a blessing to one’s soul and to others around you. Speaking as one completing his 33rd year in the same job and home, I appreciate this blessing! —J. Douglas Ousley

The Gathering Storm

September 20th, 2017

Hurricanes are bad enough. Imagine them arriving before all the modern ways of forecasting the weather were available.

A hundred years ago, people might have had at best a few hours warning that a powerful storm was on the way. They couldn’t board up their windows, much less evacuate. I remember my grandfather talking about the arrival of the Hurricane of 1938 and how it came without warning to his orchard in Massachusetts.

Yet with all our technology, we still can’t control the weather. As Jesus remarked, “The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.” So the theological lesson is clear: we don’t have ultimate control over our lives. Only God has that control, and his own influence over the world remains mysterious (he doesn’t save everyone from storms, for example.)

No wonder then that religion requires a lot of effort on our part to discern the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And no wonder that much of the labor of religion is prayer. —J. Douglas Ousley


September 6th, 2017

Many monks in traditional orders make a vow of “stability.” They commit themselves to remaining in the same house at the same location into the indefinite future–very likely, for life.

The same commitment used to be implied in the case of diocesan bishops: once installed, they would remain in their dioceses until retirement. This is still generally the case, though some bishops move on to other dioceses or ministries.

I’ve been thinking about the value of stability as I prepare for life in our parish without our beloved organist of 24 years, Matthew Lewis. Matthew was constantly coming up with new pieces to perform and new musical ideas. A priest colleague of mine who has, like me, been in the same post for a long time recently remarked that stability in fact forces you to re-invent yourself. You can’t repeat sermons; you can’t coast until the next job.

The same is true for laypeople who choose to serve the same parish for a period of years. They learn to deal with all kinds of people and situations. They learn a lot about themselves. And, like me, they have much to be grateful for. —J. Douglas Ousley

The End of “Churchmanship?”

August 21st, 2017

Past generations of Episcopalians were familiar with the term, “Churchmanship.” It referred to the liturgical style and other customs of a given parish.

Thus, a “high church” parish had incense and elaborate vestments, while a “low church” parish preferred Morning Prayer to Holy Communion. The rector of the former was addressed as “Father;” the rector of the latter was known as “Mr.” (or “Dr.” or “Canon,” if he was lucky.) Moreover, in those days, “churchmen” referred to all Episcopalians. It wasn’t regarded as sexist, as all persons were included under the word, “men.”

Since those olden times, there have been so many changes to the styles of worship in the Episcopal parish that the high/low church distinction barely registers any more. Rectors of parishes with very relaxed liturgies go by “Father”–or “Mother;” “Mr.” is hardly ever heard, these days.

Perhaps the most important change with the years has been a general coming together of both Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical styles. Most churches wear vestments and favor the Eucharist on Sundays. Most clergy also attempt to preach engaging sermons; they don’t see preaching as “low church.” While in Manhattan, individual parishes are still distinguished by their historic practices–St. Mary the Virgin being the paradigmatic High Church and Grace the example of Low Church–still, the majority of churches wouldn’t see themselves under either banner.

For what it’s worth, I classify the Church of the Incarnation as “Broad Church!”–J. Douglas Ousley

To Charlottesville from Ferguson

August 15th, 2017

As I shook hands at the door after one of our services on Sunday, a parishioner came up to me. He was nearly in tears. He reminded me that he had recently moved to New York City from Charlottesville.

Even at that early moment, he could probably sense that Charlottesville–one of the most liberal cities in the South–was about to become a by-word for racial hatred and violence.

Another parishioner rightly urged our parish to take a strong stand on this issue. I believe we can do that, because racial tolerance is not an optional virtue to be acquired or not as the spirit moves you. This is no place for Anglican comprehensiveness. The Broad Church of Jesus Christ isn’t broad enough to include racists and anti-Semites. —J. Douglas Ousley

Fire and Fury

August 9th, 2017

Following the President’s threat against North Korea yesterday, a CNN correspondent was reporting from Hawaii. She was an expert in nuclear war damage and gave a long list of things Hawaiians should do in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack. For example, if they are in the city, they should go to the basement of the biggest building around; if they are in the country, they should go into caves.

A later commentator observed that this might have been an extreme reaction. War was not that imminent, he felt.

Whoever is right, the situation is alarming to any American. I was reminded of the nuclear war nightmares I had growing up during the Cold War of the 1950’s.

Whoever is right, Christians everywhere should be praying with all their might for peace. —J. Douglas Ousley


Words Fail

July 31st, 2017

Even the bleep-friendly media have been shocked by the language emanating recently from the White House. One such speaker terms his vocabulary, “colorful.” Christians are appalled; non-puritanical unbelievers are upset or, at best, amused.

Many appropriate Scripture verses suggest themselves. Jesus: “Let your yes be a plain yes, and your no no.” (Mt. 5.37) “Speak the truth in love.” (Eph. 4.15)

But the only verses that seem relevant to the current administration seem the many passages about conflict and brother being set against brother (Lk 12.53, etc).

Meanwhile, beyond all the White House psycho-drama, there are “wars, and rumors of wars.” (Mt. 24.6)–J. Douglas Ousley